The ScrumButt Test (4): You know who the Product Owner is

In this series, I  am going over each question in the ScrumButt Test.

The first section of the ScrumButt Test is a quick determination: are you doing incremental development? The second section is: are you doing Scrum?

We are now up to the first question in the second section. It is: Do you know who your Product Owner is?

Clearly, it is not just “do you know his or her name?”

The most important goal of the Product Owner is to maximize the Business Value delivered by the Team to the Customers.  More quickly.  (Note: We did not define the time frame to do that. The PO must define that, or get it defined.)

The Product Owner has these responsibilities in Scrum:

  • Helps define the features that will make it into the product.
  • Is the last decision maker on each release date and its content
  • Assures that product backlog items are ready to go into a Sprint
  • Drives toward high profitability of the product (ROI) [IMO, higher customer satisfaction comes first.]
  • Prioritizes features in the Product Backlog, mainly by market value or business value
  • Can change features and priorities in the next Sprint
  • Accepts or rejects work results

A few comments.

The Product Owner is the main voice of the customer and the business side into the Team. She is responsible to assure that the team understands everything the business can tell them about the effort (high level and low level).

The Product Owner is the main risk manager;  since most risks are ultimately business risks, and must be managed as trade-offs against other things (values, risks, costs, etc). At the same time, the team members are seen as business people as well. They signed up to deliver business value; so in some ways, managing risk is a collaboration. When the final decision must be made, the PO must decide ( if it is decided within the team).

The Product Owner is part of the Scrum Team. (This was debated for awhile in the Agile/Scrum community; the PO is part of the team. Period. Done.)

The Product Owner also has outward facing responsibilities. Most of the team members work within the team. The PO is also responsible for understanding the customers (the end-users) and the business. This takes constant work, since the customers (and the business) are always changing.

The Product Owner manages the ‘business stakeholders.’ [This is a special term.]  The business stakeholders are people outside the team (‘chickens’) who have a stake or a say in the product being created. Maybe the product is mainly for external customers, but operations must use it as well. Maybe Legal or Compliance has some say, etc, etc. In large corporations, these business stakeholders take a lot of work. A key area in managing the business stakeholders is getting down to one prioritized Product Backlog.  The business stakeholders (as I define them) must show up to virtually every Sprint Review and give useful feedback.

Note: The Scrum Guide barely mentions the business stakeholders.  This is partly because they are not within the Scrum Team.  Exactly who the business stakeholders will be is subject to many conditions.  One can still do Scrum without the business stakeholders, I suppose, but your Team will be at a serious disadvantage.

So, how much time does the Product Owner spend with the Team? There is no precise answer to this question; it depends and varies.  Normally I recommend the PO be 100% dedicated to one project (really, one release at a time).

The Product Owner should work with the Team at least as much as the Team wants. The Team should want the PO as much as having her will improve the product (speed, accuracy, more value, better, cheaper, etc). It is seldom that one can learn too fast or too much.

The typical situation I find is this. The Product Owner (the person) and the Team start out unaccustomed to working together. Not seeing a lot of value in working together they learn about the value over time. Toward the end of the first effort, the PO will usually say “Wow, this takes a lot of my time to be with the team, but it yields great benefits! It is well worth the effort.”

Perhaps this ScrumButt Test item should read: “The Product Owner and the Team collaborate well.”



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